We are nearly a month into the summer and although the campus seems devoid of students, there are a number of items to discuss and a few questions to ask.
Beginning with the on-going presidential search, I notice that the information on the CSU web site now reports that the application deadline has been extended by one month “to allow for additional recruitment time.” While I am still not sanguine about the board’s ability to select a viable president for our school, this attempt to increase the applicant pool seems well-considered.
Unfortunately, the May board meeting demonstrated again how out of touch the current board is with the reality of life on the Chicago State campus. Board meetings on this campus are short on substantive material and long on fluff and empty rhetoric. The constant flow of “good news” from our administrators represents their attempt to create a narrative that will enable them to escape responsibility for the epic failures of the past five-plus years—failures that have severely damaged the school. Board meetings are little more than dog and pony shows at which our administrators take a credulous board on a trip through fantasyland.
The topic of enrollment inevitably emerges at these meetings. On May 8, Angela Henderson started her academic affairs report by saying: “today’s report is really focused on enrollment . . . we, this year, have redefined the responsibilities and the roles of the, the (Deans), the work has always been done but we realize that development is key, we also know that retention is critical, um for our students and our programs . . ." Watson then chimed in with this: “with regards to enrollment at Chicago State University, bascically three things: we have right-sized our enrollment; two is, we’ve established strategies and goals for a gradual, gradual increase of our enrollment; and three, we have restructured the Enrollment Management office at Chicago State University to expand it to stakeholders that have direct contact with students on both ends—students within the university and students we’re trying to recruit to the university. All research in enrollment management models state that that is the best and strongest model going. Thank you very much.” In these two comments, I count at least seven pieces of empty jargon topped with an assertion based on nothing. Surely, there must be something of substance to discuss here.
Two of the College Deans then addressed the board. At the end of their presentations, Anthony Young asked: “how long have you Deans been involved in the enrollment process?” Jones of Arts and Sciences said “December 2014,” Collins of Business told the board his involvement began on “day one, since I’ve been here, 2010.” Young paused for a moment then asked: “I guess since 20, ah, this is the first time anybody, any of the deans, have come and talked to us about enrollment and enrollment strategies from the individual colleges. And if you’ve been doing this since 2010, how come, how come we’re just hearing about it?” At this point, Watson interceded and asked Henderson to explain. What followed was painful. After a rambling discussion about committees and the Higher Learning Commission, Henderson told Young: “I tried to give, um, we don’t go into details, when they give you their reports and we send it to you, the, the details are imbedded in the reports so that the deans share the activities that they are working on in their individual departments.”
Recognizing Henderson’s floundering, Watson rode to the rescue with this: “Let me ask the question, the Chairman’s question another way. How long has it been defined that one-third of the dean’s job will be recruitment and enrollment and reaching certain goals?”
Henderson: “Defined in their job responsibility?”
Watson: “A part of, yes”
Henderson: “Has been officially this year.”
Watson: “Oh, OK.”
Henderson apparently felt the need to elaborate in a series of truly stunning non-sequiturs. “Well ah, when Dean said that was 2010, I wanted to share that this is not something that just has started, that deans have always been involved, we’ve just been starting to, we, we’ve ah, quantified it a little more as we evaluate deans because, to be honest with you, I say it all the time, we have chairs who have departments and then we have deans and we have associate deans within colleges, so, you know, we have to collaborate with those experts in their areas to insure that when we’re going out and talking about programs that people understand those programs.” Given the sheer amount of bullshit in the preceding comments, one might expect some sharp questions to come from the board. Here’s the response:
Trustee Joyce: “Thank you.”
Moving on to the Enrollment Management report, Cheri Sidney again appeared to provide a substance-free report ostensibly responding to the board’s request for data about strategies and goals for fall 2015. Enrollment Management’s document “identified seven strategies that align to CSU’s plan of how we strategically grow enrollment.” She catalogued the strategies. Tell me which ones mean anything: 1) “manage enrollment capacity and retention” (capacity is currently no problem); 2) “increase first-time, full-time freshmen”; 3) “increase the number of transfer students”; 4) “increase scholarship”; 5) “involve our alums”; 6) “expand our outreach efforts” (more administrative postions necessary?); 7) “and increase our recruiting efforts.” See any data in this boilerplate nonsense?
Perhaps the administrators and board members here at Chicago State are unclear as to what kinds of facts or information constitute data. Here is an example: in fall 2010, Chicago State enrolled 7362 students, in spring 2015, the school enrolled 4818. Those facts can be used to analyze, interpret, and draw conclusions. In contrast, “seven strategies” aligned with an enrollment growth plan do not make the grade as facts or even as useful information for analysis. Rather, these “strategies” are little more than hope for a different outcome from a repetition of the same previously ineffective actions.
However, when your primary job is to obfuscate and escape responsibility for your actions, using subjective measures as a substitute for objective and verifiable facts allows you to make the following claim: “As noted in the enrollment report, we have set an enrollment goal of 5367 students (for fall 2015) which represents an increase of approximately 3 percent, or 156 students.” This goal is based on what exactly? Sidney explained: “the enrollment goal represents the number the university is attempting to enroll for this fall term. The goal is what we call ou, an aspiring goal, This is higher than the flat projection of 5211 which is used to set our FY 16 budget.” Sidney then claimed that the goals were based on a “collaborative and comprehensive analysis of the enrollment, retention and graduation trend data at the university.” Neither her comments before the board nor the Enrollment Management report submitted to the board refers to any trend data, or data of any kind. Surely no one could be taken in by such a parade of rhetorical garbage.
Not exactly. Responding to the enrollment management discussion, one of the trustees had this to say: “First of all, I want to applaud you and your team for doing an excellent job. I appreciate the passion that you have as you deal with trying to grow our enrollment. . . I want to thank you and I think you and your team deserve a round of applause for this plan of action that we have seen . . .” What to say about this? Astonishing comes to mind. The trustee wants to congratulate the “team” for one of the five or six largest enrollment declines of any public university in the United States. If this is success, what does failure look like? No wonder we are in such trouble.
Finally, a few questions. If the board believes Watson’s tripe about “right-sizing” the university, why even have a discussion about enrollment growth? After all, if 4818 (or 4000 or 3000, whatever number Watson decides) is the “right size” for the school, the board should be happy if enrollment continues to decline. After all, aren’t any further drops in enrollment attributable to Watson’s genius? Rather than the 5367 the university “hopes” will enroll in fall 2015, based on inconclusive data, I see the number dropping further, to around 4700. I sincerely hope I am wrong.